Left: Haruthai ‘Au’ Muangboonsri. Right: Elizabeth Warren speaks about the need for equal pay for women in 2014. (Photo by Katherine Taylor for The US Department of Labor) 

Pro-monarchy protesters co-opt Elizabeth Warren to their cause using a blatant mistranslation

Elizabeth Warren has become a topic of conversation in Thailand after a leading pro-monarchy protester claimed her as a supporter of their cause. The facts show otherwise, as a Thai writer and netizens have exposed the distortion of a Warren speech by pro-junta protesters.

On 30 August, 1,200 pro-monarchy protesters gathered at Thai-Japan Bangkok Youth Centre. Even though it was small in comparison to the largest anti-government protest with 10,000 participants, it was one of the biggest pro-monarchy protests. The pro-monarchy group Thai Pakdee was created on 19 August by Dr. Warong Dechgitvigrom, a former establishment politician, and 27 other founders. The group was a response to ongoing anti-government protests which have openly called for monarchy reform for first time ever.

The launch of the group on 19 August involved several controversies, including a call for severe punishment for lèse majesté speeches, 3,000 baht payments to people who did not understand the lectures, and denial of involvement in an assault on a cleaner who was wearing a red shirt near the protest site. It created further controversy by referring to Elizabeth Warren as a supporter of their cause.

At the protest on Sunday (30 August), Haruthai ‘Au’ Muangboonsri, a hard-line royalist singer who claims to own one of Vincent van Gogh’s works, took to the stage for a speech in defence of celebrities who took part in the demonstrations which called for the military coup in 2014. Pro-junta celebrities have recently been under attack for their anti-youth comments and a boycott against TV programmes hosted by these celebrities has emerged.  There has been some success, including the resignation of Ornapha ‘Ma’ Krisadee from 3 TV programmes and of Pawanrat ‘Meaw’ Narksuriya from one programme.

To defend these celebrities, Haruthai invoked a speech by Elizabeth Warren with her own political opinions mixed in:

“Boycotting celebrities, singers and actors who joined the PDRC [People’s Democratic Reform Committee] is, I think, alright because those young people are not aware of the context of Thai politics. They missed out on studying the history of the fight against the power of parliamentary dictatorship. Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren of the US has given a speech about Thailand, saying that Thailand survived not because it has democracy, Thailand has not survived because it has a constitution, Thailand has not survived because it has laws. But Thailand has survived because it has good citizens who are not indifferent and who do have responsibility and the Thai people resist evil people who are dishonest and corrupt. This is the strength of the Thai people. So celebrities, artists, and singers who came out to fight with the PDRC, to fight corruption, people all around the world agree with you. But those kids do not understand. We must not be angry with these kids and young people. We don’t have to ban the products and businesses of the Thai people all together. How will Thai people be able to live together? Don’t create hatred. We want all of this to stop.”

Haruthai’s statement has been under scrutiny by netizens as her statement seems to be fake news. According to Thai writer Sarinee Achavanuntakul, pro-junta groups have been spreading misinformation about Warren’s speech for a while now. Since Warren is one of her favourite politicians, she does not want to let this slide.

Caption: Sarinee Achavanuntakul

On her Facebook post, Sarinee said from the source is a speech by Warren when she was attacking Trump as the then presumptive Republican nominee in 2016. But Warren’s speech had nothing to do with Thailand:

“Senator McConnell recently said he’s “pretty calm” about Donald Trump because “what protects us in this country against big mistakes being made is the structure, the Constitution, the institutions.” That is 100% wrong. Our democracy does not sustain itself. Our Constitution does not sustain itself. The rule of law does not sustain itself.

There have always been those with money and power who think the rules shouldn’t apply to them. Those who would pervert our system of government to serve their own ends. They have tried it before and they are trying it now. All that is required for the rule of law and our independent judiciary to collapse is for good people to stand by, and do nothing.

Now is not the time to stand by. Now is the time to stand up. Now is the time to say no. No. Not here. Not in these United States of America.

We are not a nation that disqualifies lawyers and judges from public service because of race — or religion — or gender — or because they haven’t spent their entire careers representing the wealthy and the powerful.

We are the nation of John Adams — a lawyer who defended the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre, and went on to serve as President of these United States.

We are the nation of Abraham Lincoln — a lawyer who defended accused killers, and went on to serve as President of these United States.

We are the nation of Thurgood Marshall — a lawyer who fought for racial equality, and went on to serve on the Supreme Court of these United States.

We are the nation of Ruth Bader Ginsberg — a lawyer who fought for gender equality, and went on to serve on the Supreme Court of these United States.

That is who we are. And we will not allow a small, insecure, thin-skinned wannabe tyrant or his allies in the Senate to destroy the rule of law in the United States of America.

It’s time again to fight — as we have in every generation — for those four simple words that define the promise of our legal system. Equal justice under law.”

Other netizens pointed out that the misinformation may have come from Naowarat Pongpaiboon, a Thai National Artist who wrote an article in Matichon Weekly in 2016 in which he encouraged people to be good citizens and fight corrupt politicians by voting in a national referendum to approve the 2017 Constitution. He began the article by quoting Warren’s speech directly in Thai, but the quotation was mistranslated and the meaning was distorted. Here is a reverse translation of the quotation back into English:

“A country does not survive because of democracy

It does not survive because of a constitution

It does not survive because of the law

But a country will be able to survive because of the force of good citizens who are not indifferent and do not surrender to evil people, dishonest people who undermine the nation. So good citizens must stand and protect the country to be secure for future generations.”

– quote of the American woman senator Elizabeth Warren

Good citizens who stand up to defend the rule of law, constitution, and democracy in Warren’s speech are not the same as Thai “good citizens” who called for the undemocratic, unaccountable and dictatorial military junta which has been in control for the past 6 years. Naowarat Pongpaiboon, Haruthai Muangboonsri, Ornapha Krisadee, Pawanrat Narksuriya all joined the PDRC protests which led to a military coup in 2014 with no democracy, the constitution ripped up and the military making their own rules with impunity.

Caption: Naowarat Pongpaiboon

Haruthai also made other unsubstantiated claims about foreign countries. Khaosod English reported her as saying that western countries want to undermine the Thai monarchy by supporting the anti-government protests. The US Embassy has responded that while they support the democratic process and rule of law, they deny allegations of meddling and call for both sides to act with respect and restraint.

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